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October 2nd, 2012:

Interview with Gilbert Garcia and Christof Spieler

Continuing the discussion of the Metro referendum, today’s interview is with Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia, and Board Member Christof Spieler. Garcia originally proposed a referendum that would continue the GMP but freeze revenues for the member entities at 2014 levels, with Metro getting all of the revenue increases above that. After an alternate measure was put forth by the Board that would have reallocated GMP funds in a way that primarily benefited Houston and caused loud complaints from the county and the smaller cities, he brokered a deal to adopt the current ballot language, with the proviso that Metro would get half of the sales tax revenue increase but could not use it on light rail construction. Spieler is a longtime transit advocate who was appointed to the Board along with Garcia by Mayor Parker. He was the only Board member to vote against the substitute ballot language. Here’s the interview:

Garcia Spieler MP3

You can still find a list of all interviews I did for this primary cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page and my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page, which I now need to update to include fall candidate information. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

UPDATE: In the interview, Spieler refers to a board meeting “this Friday”. The interview was conducted on September 19, so the meeting in question has already occurred. My apologies for the confusion.

The Sheriff’s Crisis Intervention team

It’s a really good idea.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia

Crisis intervention teams, tagged to respond to calls involving mentally disturbed subjects, reflect a new wave of law enforcement thinking pioneered by the Memphis, Tenn., Police Department in the 1980s. Such efforts have received renewed attention after a Houston police officer last week fatally shot a mentally ill double-amputee who threatened his partner with a pen. HPD’s crisis intervention team, in place since 2008, was not at the scene.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia launched the county’s program last October as an alternative to jailing the mentally ill, an effort he said not only eases suffering but saves taxpayers money. About a fourth of the jail’s current 8,900 prisoners require psychotropic medication.

“Each time we take a low-risk, nonviolent, mentally ill individual to treatment rather than jail, we increase the chances they will not re-offend and decrease the costs to our jail and the court system,” Garcia said.

Since its inception, the county program has diverted 168 mentally ill subjects, individuals who previously would have been charged with crimes, to treatment facilities.

[Lt. Robert] Henry’s team, which has a cooperative agreement with the Houston Police Department’s crisis team, has answered 1,581 calls since last October. In the most recent quarter, 728 of the individuals encountered suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, 257 from depression, 227 from bipolar disorder and 213 from schizophrenia.

“Our goal,” Henry said, “is to protect both sides of the badge. We are trained and skilled to protect ourselves and trained and skilled to protect the ‘consumer.’ We don’t rush into action. We understand what they are going through.”

As we know, HPD has a similar unit, and they have done a good job keeping mentally ill people out of jail as well. It just makes sense, and every law enforcement agency should learn from these examples. Locking people up indiscriminately is expensive and unjust.

Driverless cars in Texas

You have perhaps heard the news that Google’s driverless car has been approved for street usage in California; specifically, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill that requires the California Department of Motor Vehicles to draft regulations for autonomous vehicles by Jan. 1, 2015. You may be wondering, with varying degrees of wonder or horror, when Texas might do the same. KUT takes a look.

While the prospect of seeing a car with no driver may be terrifying – especially if the car is converging with you at an intersection – robots have some advantages: they don’t get tired, drunk, or distracted by their phones, apply makeup, eat breakfast, or skim text messages. Robot drivers are always on-duty, fully-functioning, and paying attention. (Unless of course they have a software bug, or a system failure, or some wires shake loose.)

But when will the Google car come to Texas? The Texas Department of Transportation says they’re not aware of any plans to put robot drivers on Lone Star roads. The Texas Legislature would have to pass new laws allowing self-driving cars, and it meets next in January.

But the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the primary research center for Texas roadways, tells KUT News its researchers are visiting Google next week to learn more about the self-driving cars. And here in Austin, University of Texas research is focusing on creating not intelligent automobiles, but intelligent intersections that could leave the driving to your car.

Many other states are considering whether or not to put robots on the road.  Auto manufacturers, including BMW, Audi, Cadillac, and Volvo, are working on self-driving technologies. And Ford and Lexus have cars that can park themselves.

Say it with me now: “I for one welcome our robot automotive overlords”. I can’t wait to see the debate on this one in the Legislature. The lobbying effort alone will be worth watching. What do you think about this? Are you looking forward to the day when your car will drive you, or are you convinced this is just another step towards The Matrix? Leave a comment and let me know.

Another reason to vote early

Your Election Day polling location may not be what you’re used to.

Recent redistricting will force about 20 percent of Harris County voters to cast ballots at new polling locations on Election Day, County Clerk Stan Stanart said Monday.

That makes early voting – when voters can cast ballots at any of 37 locations countywide – even more important, he and other county officials said.

[…]

“Some people are going to be in a different location on Election Day simply because of redistricting,” Stanart said. “We can’t prevent that, but what we can do is encourage people to vote early, and that’s what this message is about.”

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool early voter, so this doesn’t affect me. If you’re a hardcore Election Day traditionalist, I suggest you go here and verify your precinct location. Wouldn’t want to have any unpleasant surprises on November 6.

The County Clerk’s office sent out the following press release about a campaign to encourage people to vote early:

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart and Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack in partnership with Clear Channel VP Lee Vela, unveiled a countywide billboard campaign promoting early voting among the 1.95 million registered voters in the nation’s third largest voting jurisdiction. The initiative is scheduled to run for 30 days, leading up to and beyond the beginning of the early voting period.

“As the County’s Chief Election Official, I am very appreciative of the support Clear Channel is providing to encourage early voting in the upcoming election,” said Stanart. “In an election year when the redistricting process may have changed voters’ Election Day poll, it is very important that voters heed the billboard message and vote early.” Early Voting begins Monday, October 22 and ends Friday, November 2.

In addition to several digital signs, Clear Channel donated 40 traditional billboards which are now posted across the county. “We are proud to be a part of this campaign to reach Harris County voters. These donated billboards will generate more than 3.8 million viewers each week for a total of more than 15 million viewings before early voting starts”, said Lee Vela, Clear Channel Vice-President of Public Affairs.

The billboards provide Harris County voters important information about voting in English as well others languages covered by language provisions of the 1975 Voting Rights Act, including Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese. Commissioner Radack emphasized that the objective of the billboard campaign is to promote early voting among all county voters.

“Exercise your duty and right to vote as soon you are able. Please do not wait until the last day of early voting or the last few hours of Election Day to vote,” Stanart stated at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center in west Houston, which serves as one of 37 early voting locations in Harris County.

“Early Voting schedules, maps, voting requirements, Election Day locations and everything a voter needs to know to enable their participation in this election can be found at www.HarrisVotes.com,” Stanart concluded.

It should be noted that there are some different Early Voting locations, too, so check here for a map. Early voting starts October 22 and runs through November 2. However you do it, just remember to go vote.